OPINION: Paul Hammersley in America

From recent visits, I know that friends and colleagues look to the US for news of an impending recovery in our business. It is questionable whether we (either the US or the UK) have really been in a recession, although the decline in ad spending itself was genuine and has been well recorded. If the US was in recession then it is clear that it is now out of it although some well-regarded economists fear a "double dip with the recent stock market travails leading us back into decline in the last quarter.

There are logical reasons to assume that things will soon get better.

Supply chains, overfilled two years ago, must empty. Capital expenditure budgets must surely loosen up. In pursuit of the evasive earnings growth everyone seeks to push up equity prices, the options presented by continued cost-cutting are narrowing and top line growth has to become the priority. And we all know how to drive that.

Indeed, I am pleased to say that I have seen a few early buds of recovery.

Most of the experts are projecting minimal growth in adspends by the end of 2002 versus the calamitous declines of 2001. The much vaunted "upfronts", in which the big TV advertisers commit budgets to the large network broadcasters in response to the networks launching their autumn programmes, was very positive with demand significantly up from last year. Perhaps most tangibly, I know of at least four of our clients who are planning increased spends starting in the last quarter, across the automotive, personal finance and consumer goods categories. The key as to whether these buds will blossom into a full recovery depends upon that defining American trait - optimism.

The problem is that so much of what Americans have come to trust and rely on has been under attack over the past few months. First there have been the terrorist attacks on the US, which have undermined people's indomitable sense of personal security.

On top of this has been piled the accelerated decline in the stock market and the continuing disclosures of corporate malfeasance or failure. This in a country far more preoccupied with business and finance than any other; where more people have stocks; where the obsessions include how to fund expensive college educations for the children; and where corporate leaders were, until recently, the new royalty. Not only has all this raised fundamental questions about the legitimacy of American Capitalism but it has also caused some personal hardship, or at least a recalibration of personal aspirations, for millions of people.

In the middle of this mire you can find the queen of American style.

Martha Stewart, a cross between Delia Smith and Nigella Lawson, who for many years has epitomised the perfection of domesticity and shown Americans how to cook and decorate through her magazine, TV channel and co-branded products, has fallen from grace. Accused of insider dealing of stocks in ImClone, a business formerly run by a friend of hers, she has gone from personifying all that was great in America to all that is now wrong.

And if all this wasn't bad enough even baseball is under the microscope. A feared strike among the grotesquely overpaid "boys of summer combined with revelations of widespread use of steroids is undermining baseball's position as a country's national sport.

If Americans can handle this broad assault on their way of life and their sense of purpose, then I am sure that the economy will continue to bounce back and the marketing services business with it. My money's on them to do so and to continue to demonstrate the extraordinary sense of optimism, which they've always had. Fingers crossed.

- Stuart Elliott is on holiday.


Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus